The months since the death of PFC Justin Whitmire have been difficult for the family, but the outpouring of support from the community has been what has helped them to heal, according to Whitmire's maternal grandmother, Pat Surett.
On Friday at a blood drive in Easley, Surett came to donate a pint of blood in her grandson's memory, but also to thank the organizer, Tommy Byrd of Seneca.
She looked at the photo of Justin Whitmore on the flyers hanging on the table outside Kmart in Easley. She said she loved that picture of her grandson in uniform, because you could see part of his smile.
"I guess they tell them not to smile, " Surett said. "But that wasn't Justin, he always had the biggest smile on his face."
Surett, wearing a camouflage T-shirt with "Remember PFC Justin Whitmire" emblazoned on the front, spoke softly of her grandson. She talked about his love of his family, the last time she saw him at an early Christmas gathering before he was deployed and a recent photo that her daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Donnie Whitmire, recently received from Fort Hood that was taken just before Whitmire had been deployed to Afghanistan.
Surett said some days it doesn't seem possible that they have said, "goodbye to him," but she said it's his memory that keeps her going.
Surett stood outside talking to the mom of a young soldier. The woman told Surett that her son was leaving in two weeks for Afghanistan and that she now understood the worry that Surett and the Whitmire's parents must have felt.
Surrett offered the woman a hug and told her she would pray for her son's safe return.
Byrd, who was celebrating his 20th blood drive, was close by at a table making a whipped cream pie for Surett to throw at him.
Byrd didn't know Whitmire, nor did he know the Whitmire family, but he said the story of the young soldier's death tugged at his heart.
"He was an Army medic, he wanted to help people and I wanted to help people remember him," Byrd said. "All that he was inspires me... and he was also a Clemson fan, me too."
Byrd wearing a bright orange Clemson shirt took a pie in the face for every pint of blood that was donated on Friday. He said his sacrifice was minimal, when compared to what Whitmire had done.